Marico Innovation Foundation (MIF) is helping agri start-ups to flourish and bridge their mentoring gaps through its “scale-up programme” which has a panel of expert mentors in the agriculture field to guide them.

“Agriculture is part of our scale-up programme. It is the first vertical that we have built (at MIF). We will start building other verticals depending on the needs that entrepreneurs have,” said Priya Kapadia, Head of Marico Innovation Foundation. 

In this programme, the foundation picks up innovations which have an annual revenue between ₹1 and ₹10 crore. “We work with them for 3-4 years without giving them grants, without taking any equity from them. But we are helping them on two counts,” she said.

Promise to entrepreneurs 

The first is to strategically help these firms to go in the right direction as entrepreneurs can go all over the place and lose valuable time. At the functional level, the foundation helps to clean up their business inefficiencies, make manufacturing more efficient, make the supply chain more efficient.

Priya Kapadia, Head of Marico Innovation Foundation

Priya Kapadia, Head of Marico Innovation Foundation

 “And our promise to the entrepreneurs is we will work with you until you hit ₹100-crore-mark because the journey from toddler to teen is the toughest journey,” Kapadia said.

MIF picked its first organisation in 2017-18 and it was easy for it to find the mentors. “A lot more exciting innovations happening (in agri sector), organisations. When we began seeing actual innovations in product in this sector, we said let’s do something specifically in this sector,” she said.

“It is important to keep our promise of picking up organisations at ₹1 crore and work with them until ₹100 crore. We need to have a battery of people supporting them,” Kapadia said.

Sectoral intervention 

The programme is apart from the foundation conceptualising India’s first-ever innovation awards platform 16 years ago celebrate the pioneering work of game-changing Indian innovations. The Innovation for India Awards has become a prestigious and distinguished platform that showcases path-breaking innovations that inspire a new generation of innovators.

MIF makes sectoral intervention now and then when it finds a sunrise sector with some people jumping into the fray as innovators. “But the ecosystem does not support them. So we tried this prototype in 2018 with agri when agritech innovators were just at the incubation stage,” Kapadia said.

At that time, companies such as Agristar were worth only a few crores, while DeHaat, which won businessline changemaker award for digital transformation, was getting set up. The setting up of the scale-up programme which helped agtech innovators get access to farm to prove their mettle. 

Catalytic role

 “And five years later, they have become a happy sector,” she said. When MIF gets into a sector, it looks out for an opportunity to do what no one else is looking at, “build some action in that sector” to attract others attention, who then will work in that sector. 

The foundation plays a catalytic role with its five-member team performing the job of match-making and egging the entrepreneur do what the agri panel mentors tell them. 

“It is a very important agenda in finding new ways of supporting them. So the (MIF) team is a thinking one helping the entrepreneurs in a very catalyzing way to grow,” she said. 

The agricultural panel comprises mentors from agri input companies, machinery firms, scientific community, ventre capital firms and entrepreneurs. Some of the panelists are  Sanjiv Kanwar, Country Head at Yara International India,  Aruna Bhinge, independent director at various agricultural companies and former head of food security at Syngenta,  Vidya Gupta, Chief Scientist and Chair at National Chemical Laboratory, and  Shashank Kumar, Founder and CEO,  Dehaat.

Exciting firms

Currently, the foundation had worked with more than 30 organisations across various sectors with currently 19 companies engaged with it now. Apart from agriculture, more sectors are likey to be added up in the next 3-4 years. Of the 19 companies, six are from the agriculture space.

Some of the firms  are exciting to work with. The 6-7 firms it is working with are together likely to clock a turnover of ₹100 crore this year. Of the six, S4S Technologies is a food preservation company which is inventing new food processing machines for  farmers’ use.  

The second is Kheyti which designs, adapts and implements low-cost farming solutions for small farmers to increase their yield. The third is Urdhvam Environmental Technologies Pvt Ltd,  a water management company, which specifically focuses on groundwater.  The fourth is EF Polymer Private Limited which helps farmers struggling with huge water and fertilizer requirements.  The fifth is GramCover, a composite insurance broking firm, which is focused on insurance product design and tech-enabled distribution for rural India.  The sixth is EEKI Foods, which grows quality staple vegetables using hydroponics, without soil and using 80 per cent less water.

The foundation was founded in 2003 by Marico Ltd’s chairman Harsh Mariwala, mainly to nurture innovation across business and social sectors. A lot of innovation took place in the firs decade and by 2012-12, the “excite of startup ecosystem” began to build up. 

 “That was when in 2016 we set up our flagship program called the MIF Scale Up Program(me),” she said.  However, a lot of app platforms had nothing much to take note of. But since 2018, a lot of serious ones came up with technology innovations, Kapadia said. 

Part of CSR

“This was when we decided to work with potentially game changing, currently hidden, innovations. We are able to see sectors coming out so beautifully now,” she said. 

Marico Ltd funds MIF as part of its corporate social responsibility in “small percentage” without any mandate on what the foundation should do.  At the strategic level, the startup entrepreneurs are mentored by people such as Mariwala and his peers. 

On its part, Marico Ltd runs the a mentor programme in which its members work with entrepreneurs during work hours. 

With such a record, MIF is now well known to the government’s think-tank Niti Aayog. It collaborates with the Atal Innovation Mission, while Maharashtra State Innovation Society is familiar with the foundation’s work.